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The White House Criminal Conspiracy | The Nation

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The White House Criminal Conspiracy

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This article is being shared with TomDispatch.com.

The Conspiracy Is Under Way

About the Author

Elizabeth de la Vega
Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor with more than twenty years of experience. During her tenure, she...

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OK, everyone who has studied the unitary executive theory of the presidency, raise your hand. Anyone? A former prosecutor examines what's behind Bush's legal fig leaf.

The PR campaign intensified Sunday, September 8. On that day the New York Times quoted anonymous "officials" who said Iraq sought to buy aluminum tubes suitable for centrifuges used in uranium enrichment. The same morning, in a choreographed performance worthy of Riverdance, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Richard Myers said on separate talk shows that the aluminum tubes, suitable only for centrifuges, proved Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

If, as Jonathan Schell put it, the allegation that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger is "one of the most rebutted claims in history," the tubes story is a close second. The CIA and the Energy Department had been debating the issue since 2001. And the Energy Department's clear opinion was that the tubes were not suited for use in centrifuges; they were probably intended for military rockets. Given the lengthy debate and the importance of the tubes, it's impossible to believe that the Bush team was unaware of the nuclear experts' position. So when Bush officials said that the tubes were "only really suited" for centrifuge programs, they were committing fraud, either by lying outright or by making recklessly false statements.

When in September 2002 Bush began seeking Congressional authorization to use force, based on assertions that were unsupported by the National Intelligence Estimate, Democratic senators demanded that a new NIE be assembled. Astonishingly, though most NIEs require six months' preparation, the October NIE took two weeks. This haste resulted from Bush's insistence that Iraq presented an urgent threat, which was, after all, what the NIE was designed to assess. In other words, even the imposition of an artificially foreshortened time limit was fraudulent.

Also, the CIA was obviously aware of the Administration's dissatisfaction with the December 2001 NIE. So with little new intelligence, it now maintained that "most agencies" believed Baghdad had begun reconstituting its nuclear weapons programs in 1998. It also skewed underlying details in the NIE to exaggerate the threat.

The October NIE was poorly prepared--and flawed. But it was flawed in favor of the Administration, which took that skewed assessment and misrepresented it further in the only documents that were available to the public. The ninety-page classified NIE was delivered to Congress at 10 pm on October 1, the night before Senate hearings were to begin. But members could look at it only under tight security on-site. They could not take a copy with them for review. They could, however, remove for review a simultaneously released white paper, a glitzy twenty-five-page brochure that purported to be the unclassified summary of the NIE. This document, which was released to the public, became the talking points for war. And it was completely misleading. It mentioned no dissents; it removed qualifiers and even added language to distort the severity of the threat. Several senators requested declassification of the full-length version so they could reveal to the public those dissents and qualifiers and unsubstantiated additions, but their request was denied. Consequently, they could not use many of the specifics from the October NIE to explain their opposition to war without revealing classified information.

The aluminum tubes issue is illustrative. The classified October NIE included the State and Energy departments' dissents about the intended use of the tubes. Yet the declassified white paper mentioned no disagreement. So Bush in his October 7 speech and his 2003 State of the Union address, and Powell speaking to the United Nations February 5, 2003, could claim as "fact" that Iraq was buying aluminum tubes suitable only for centrifuge programs, without fear of contradiction--at least by members of Congress.

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